I pulled up outside a whitewashed stone cottage, nestled next to a stream in the heart of the Brecon Beacons. Not an obvious location for a tech start-up.
I was spending the week with Sort, an edu-tech (education technology) company that provide career advice, inspiration and a jobs board for 16-25-year-olds. Once launched, users enter details of the industries that they’re interested in, their hobbies and things that they value in a career, such as creativity or leadership (sound familiar?!). The ‘Sort Engine’ algorithm will then suggest career types and job opportunities tailored to the individual. I came along to help whilst the platform was in its Beta testing, but the full launch is due early next year.
Chris and Lucy, Sort’s founders, both have backgrounds as university lecturers and eighteen months ago decided to risk going it alone as they felt that they could do more to help young people than is currently on offer. They worked to find investors, develop a platform and create content, ready for testing on some rather unforgiving nearby Welsh sixth form students.
They got in touch with me way back in December last year, and after a few Skype conversations, I have been working as a freelance content writer for them ever since. After all, careers advice is one thing I can write about! But it took a full eight months to arrive at their cottage front door.
What Did I Do?
One thing I love about working in very small businesses is the access to a wide variety of opportunity to build new skills and, by extension, how quickly you need to learn to pick those things up. This mental flexibility makes every day varied and a challenge.
I started by editing and uploading the 20 articles I’d written for them over the past few months to the website. I then moved from the written word to developing more visual content for the platform by interviewing from behind the camera. Sort want to have as many interviews with people from a range of careers as possible, from musicians to NHS nurses. We very strongly agree on this point, as diverse careers education is something I bang on about fairly regularly! I really enjoyed the new experience of using film, as this is not something I ordinarily do for my blog, though it quickly became obvious that I need a fair amount more practice with the kit. One of the shoots with a local singer did not go to plan – I’d not tested the microphone with my camera first, and out came a loud and constant buzz whenever I hit record. I had no spare camera or microphone…
On the marketing side, I sent out mailshots to existing subscribers and created animated drawings to explain and promote certain career paths – that was a new skill too. I went along to a handful of meetings to learn about how to pitch to the client companies Sort were trying to get on board, to build the number of job opportunities available.
Much of my time, however, was spent sitting in with Chris and Lucy brainstorming about business strategy and their plans for the future, which I found fascinating. It was great to be able to work on a project where I strongly identified with the vision and felt it could make a difference to young people’s career decisions.
As with several of the placements I’ve worked in before that are start-up based, I really enjoyed the camaraderie and creativity, the openness to new ideas and problem solving, as well as how every person in the company makes a significant impact. This creates a workplace that provides a real challenge, which is something that I’m really looking for.
Generally, travel is not especially likely and much of the work is desk and office based, though of course this is dependent on the start-up. This has been an issue that I’ve struggled to reconcile throughout the 25before25 journey – how do you find a job that has the intellectual and creative challenges I’m looking for, but that also isn’t entirely behind a computer screen. As we start moving from Autumn into Winter, with the days getting shorter, it is something that I think about more and more. In a few weeks, it will be dark when I’d get into work and dark when I’d leave – my vitamin D levels would not be happy with me.
Working for an innovative tech start-up, especially one like Sort that matches my interest in careers education, would come down heavily on the scales for all the brain-burning attributes I’m looking for, but it doesn’t answer the question of how I can balance it with the great outdoors....